Washington: As a ferocious superstorm threatening 50 million people along the US East Coast gathered strength Monday, President Barack Obama warned affected residents that failure to obey evacuation orders could prove deadly.
“We are certain that this is going to be a slow-moving process through a wide swath of the country, and millions of people are going to be affected,” Obama who has cancelled campaign plans for Monday and Tuesday to monitor Hurricane Sandy, told reporters at the White House.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has pre-positioned supplies and is working closely with state and local officials, he said as Washington region’s entire public transit system serving the national capital and neighbouring states of Virginia and Maryland ceased operation.
Asked about the storm’s effect on the election campaign, Obama said: “I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election. I’m worried about the impact on families, and I’m worried about the impact on our first-responders. I’m worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation. The election will take care of itself next week.”
Packing winds of 90 mph just hours before it is expected to make landfall, the Category 1 hurricane is moving north-northwest at 18 mph, and will soon turn northwestward, the National Hurricane Centre said.
At 11 a.m. (8.30 p.m. India time), the storm was centred about 260 miles south-southeast of New York City. Hurricane-force winds extended up to 175 miles from the storm’s centre, with tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 485 miles.
Residents and emergency management officials have been keeping a wary eye on the hurricane’s expected path, bracing for the impact in states like Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Federal offices in Washington and schools, colleges and universities across the region were closed in anticipation of power breakdowns and dangerous road conditions.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of more than 370,000 people in low-lying communities from Coney Island in Brooklyn to Battery Park City in Manhattan.
He also declared a two day holiday for some 1.1 million schoolchildren as the city opened evacuation shelters at 76 public schools.
As gale force winds were reported over coastal North Carolina, southeastern Virginia, the Delmarva Peninsula and coastal New Jersey, forecasters said the storm’s centre will make landfall along or just south of the Southern New Jersey coast Monday evening.